Let’s hear from a few of the leading Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential election about their efforts to win over LGBTQ voters.
First, there is Baptist minister and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who said earlier this year that giving gay and transgender people equal rights would be like “accommodat[ing] those who want to use drugs … [or] believe in incest.” In a separate interview, he cited the “ick factor” in his opposition to gay marriage.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told Fox News’ perennially outraged Bill O’Reilly that “there is a gay and secular fascism” at work in the United States “that wants to impose its will on the rest of us.”
Finally, we have Minnesota firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), in many ways a lovechild of Sarah Palin and a paranoid schizophrenic. While speaking to a conference of educators, Bachmann equated the “gay and lesbian lifestyle” with “personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement.”
All of these candidates are banking that social issues, historically effective at getting out Republican voters, will still resonate in 2012. Huckabee’s prediction that Republican opposition to gay marriage “will truly energize a segment of the conservative base” in 2012 has been similarly calculated by Gingrich, Bachmann and several other frontrunners who have been less visible in their opposition to equality, but still disinclined to pass fair legislation.
Yet while the rhetoric has remained constant for many Republican leaders, they are speaking to a group of voters decidedly different from those that existed even a few years ago. Survey after survey has indicated a radical shift in opinions on LGBTQ issues recently, especially among crucial swing groups like independents and Catholics.
In March, The Washington Post and an ABC News poll concluded that, for the first time, over a majority of Americans support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Other polls have been equally rosy. According to Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, independents now hold the same percentage as Democrats in their acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships: 61 percent, an 11 percent jump since 2006. Catholics, a huge swing block, also jumped 16 percentage points to a robust 62 percent affirming gay and lesbian relationships, a shift that heralds an increasing acceptance especially among Latinos, whose numbers are swelling in the United States.
Another notable Gallup finding is that men have surpassed women in their approval of gay and lesbian relationships. A shift in viewpoints is not just evident between genders, but between generations. Men aged 18 to 49 are now our most tolerant demographic, jumping 20 percentage points in just four years in their acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships. Just as Richard Burr, the staunchly conservative North Carolina senator, said when he voted for an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the vote was “inevitable … given the generational transition that has taken place in our nation.”
If these striking advancements can be made in just four years, imagine what the presidential election of 2016 is going to look like. The will of the people must inform the positions of our politicians, and as our generation takes on greater political power, so too will public officials tolerant of differences in sexuality. While some short-sighted Republicans like Huckabee are banking on gay marriage as a wedge issue that will mobilize Republican voters in 2012, in the long term the issue will be an embarrassment for Republican candidates unwilling to adapt their rhetoric.
A slow change is taking place among a few leading Republican candidates. As with every issue in politics, the ideological change is much slower than that of the population as a whole. However, we see some signs of hope: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has called for a truce on divisive social issues. Both former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman have endorsed civil unions. Even Sarah Palin, darling of the far right, recently re-tweeted a call by conservative commentator Tammy Bruce to end the witch-hunt of gays in the military.
While these moves are laudable, they stand in unfortunate contrast with the views of most elected Republicans, who are becoming more and more out of touch with national sentiment. If you’re waiting on a courageous Republican candidate with enough cajones to challenge the established order and endorse equality for all citizens, don’t cross your fingers in 2012. Beyond that, however, demographics indicate that it’s only a matter of time before all candidates endorse full equality.
Albert Eisenberg is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at [email protected] Just Doing Me appears every other Friday.
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